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Nicholas Culpeper

Biography

(1616-1654)

 

Nicholas Culpeper was an English botanist , physician , and astrologer. He was the son of Nicholas Culpeper, a clergyman. Born on October 18th, 1616, tragically his father, the Reverend Nicholas Culpeper, died 13 days before his birth.

He went on to study divinity at Cambridge University until his childhood sweetheart, with whom he planned to elope, was killed by lightning. Disillusioned he became apprenticed to an apothecary called Francis Drake. He went on to run a pharmacy in the Halfway House in Spitalfields , London,

But, he was a radical republican and opposed to the "closed shop" of medicine. He believed that the use of Latin by doctors, lawyers and priests was a conspiracy to keep power and freedom away from the general public. He wished to make the knowledge of herbal remedies available to everyone, especially the poor who could ill afford to visit a physician. And to this end he published in English a translation of the Pharmacopoeia Londonesis of the Royal College of Physicians, calling it A Physical Directory, or a Translation of the London Dispensary . Of this work he said:

"I am writing for the Press a translation of the Physicians' medicine book from Latin into English so that all my fellow countrymen and apothecaries can understand what the Doctors write on their bills. Hitherto they made medicine a secret conspiracy, writing prescriptions in mysterious Latin to hide ignorance and to impress upon the patient. They want to keep their book a secret, not for everybody to know... "

This act of producing an unauthorized critical translation of the London Dispensatory made him the enemy of the physicians. The College counter-attacked in the periodical Mercurius Pragmaticus . They strongly disapproved of his translation:

The Pharmacopoeia was done (very filthily) into English by one Nicholas Culpeper who commenced the several degrees of Independency, Brownism, Anabaptism; admitted himself of John Goodwin's school (of all ungodliness) in Coleman Street; after that he turned Seeker, Manifestarian, and now has arrived at the battlement of an absolute Atheist, and by two years' drunken labour hath Gallimawfried the Apothecaries' book into nonsense, mixing every receipt therein with some scruples at least of Rebellion or Atheism, besides the danger of poisoning mens' bodies. And (to supply his drunkenness and lechery with a 30-shilling reward) endeavoured to bring into obloquy the famous Societies of Apothecaries and Chirurgeons.

On 10 th January 1654 he died of tuberculosis at the age of 38. His greatest achievement was without a doubt his "Complete Herbal and English Physician .- being a complete method of physic, whereby a man may preserve his body in health, or cure himself, being sick, for three pence charge, with such things only as grow in England, they being most fit for English bodies. This book remained the most popular guide for herbal medicine in England for over 250 years.

Quotations

"Culpeper, the man that first ranged the woods and climbed the mountains in search of medical and salutary herbs, undoubtedly merited the gratitude of posterity" . -- ( Dr. Johnson ).

Quotation from Nicholas Culpeper himself: "The liberty of our Commonwealth is most impaired by three sorts of men, priests, physicians, lawyers."

References

  • 1995. Culpeper's complete herbal. A book of natural remedies for ancient ills (Ware, Wordsworth edition).
  • 2004. The Herbalist: Nicholas Culpeper and the Fight for Medical Freedom. Benjamin Woolley. HarperCollins.
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